Both times I looked at the front page of Bleacher Report this evening, Usain Bolt's 200 victory was displayed prominently. Ashton Eaton's victory in the decathlon wasn't on the front page the first time I looked, and was near the bottom the second time.
That is wrong, because Ashton Eaton is a better athlete than Usain Bolt.
In my opinion, there are three tests of a great track and field athlete. Two of these are the marathon and the mile. The marathon is a long endurance race. The mile also requires endurance, but more importantly, is very much a tactical race.
The third test isn't one of the two sprints that Bolt has double gold in. Neither endurance nor tact is required to win.
Basically, Usain Bolt wins his medals by getting out of the blocks quickly, then running really fast for a few seconds. That's it.
The third test is the decathlon.
The decathlon combines a tactical endurance race and an all-out sprint with a third run (the 400-meter), a hurdles race and three jumping events that utilize completely different techniques. One must also throw objects for distance that are three completely different shapes and weights in three completely different ways.
Plus, all those events happen in just two days; not like in the 100-meter, where you race for 10 seconds and get a six-hour break.
Traditionally, the title of "World's Greatest Athlete" is bestowed on decathlon gold medalists, and with good reason. This began with Jim Thorpe, who took time out from excelling in this multiple event (which he practiced for by single-handedly beating an entire track team) to be an All-American running back and play pro baseball.
Who's a better athlete?
Ashton Eaton is the Olympic gold medalist and world-record holder in the decathlon.
Though Eaton and Bolt share the strength of being best in sprints (Eaton's 100-metre and 110-hurdle times would have won gold in the first nine Summer Olympics), Ashton Eaton is much more well-rounded than Bolt.
Consider this: Bolt would have gotten 1,177 points if his 100-meter time had been in the decathlon. Even assuming that Bolt could muster 1,100 points in the 400-meter, to get to 9,000 (above the score Eaton achieved in the Olympics, but below his world record) Bolt would have to do the following:
- Jump 23 feet, seven inches in the long jump
- Put the shot 52.5 feet out
- Jump six feet, nine inches in the high jump
- Run the 110-meter high hurdles in 15.05 seconds
- Throw a discus 160 feet
- Pole-vault 15 feet, nine inches
- Throw a javelin 221 feet
- And top it all off by running the 1500 meters in four minutes, 15 seconds
(This assumes averaging roughly 841 for each event.)
Most people can't do that in their lifetime; if Usain Bolt was the World's Greatest, he'd have to do it in 36 hours. Bottom line: "Mr. 9000" is a better athlete than Bolt.